Video: The Return of the Swine Flu

January 23rd, 2013

WNET.ORG Correspondent Rafael Pi Roman speaks with New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley about the expected return of the H1N1 virus during the normal flu season.

VOCES: Tales of Masked Men – A Q&A with Filmmaker Carlos Avila

September 28th, 2012

“Lucha libre,” famous for its masked wrestlers, provides a sense of “home” for new immigrants in the United States. Photo courtesy of Cuauhtemoc Garcia and Echo Park Films.

Tales of Masked Men explores the sport of “lucha libre” and its role in Latino communities in the United States and Mexico. Here, VOCES talks with filmmaker Carlos Avila about his inspiration for the film and gaining the trust of the “lucha libre” community.

Tales of Masked Men airs Sunday, September 30 at 7 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Interview courtesy of VOCES 2012. For more interviews and other VOCES film content, visit the VOCES 2012 site.

How did you come to make “Tales of Masked Men?”

The film has been in my life a long time. I loved lucha libre when I was a boy. I have very vivid memories of Friday nights when my mother and stepfather would drive my brothers, sisters and me, as well as some friends of the family, across town to the Olympic Auditorium in Downtown Los Angeles. The great Mexican wrestler Mil Mascaras (the “man of a thousand masks”) would regularly wrestle there and he was our favorite. The times when he would wrestle on television, was a special event. In the 1970s – and it’s often the case today – it was rare to see a Mexican man or any Latino on American television who was heroic, charismatic and victorious. Mil Mascaras had those qualities on a massive scale. Perhaps there was a larger-than-life aspect to what I was experiencing but for a ten year old kid, which I was at the time, it was an amazing revelation.

Because those images stayed with me for so long, as they did with many people from my generation, I thought that a documentary that explored the roots and history of lucha libre would be an important undertaking. I do feel that in some ways lucha libre has been dismissed as a “kitschy” sideshow but knowing how long it has endured it felt right to give it it’s due and examine its place in Mexican and Latino culture.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

As with so many of these “passion” projects, the biggest challenge was getting the funding together. Latino Public Broadcasting was on board from the outset but I was surprised by how little interest there was from other funding sources to make the film. In Mexico, there’s some people who call lucha libre, “el patito feo de los deportes” (i.e. the ugly duckling of sports) because it mixes theatre, sports and spectacle. I was starting to feel as if my documentary was becoming the “ugly duckling of documentary film projects.” But we forged ahead and on the most of modest budgets, we made an ambitious film.

From the beginning of the process, I wanted to film the documentary in Mexico and to include people with first hand knowledge of the sport. I wanted to film in the great “lucha” arenas – large and small – in Mexico. Because of this, gaining entrée into the lucha libre world was a challenge. Your expectations are that people are going to be instantly supportive of such a project but it took some effort for this to happen. Mascarita Sagrada was the first to agree to participate and then others started to support the project. Solar and Solar Jr.’s support made a big impact on the film and opened a lot of doors. El Hijo del Santo was reluctant at first but once he saw a cut of the segment on his father, he also lent his support.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHfP86xs0NU&w=560&h=315]

How did you gain trust of the lucha libre community?

I try to be straightforward in my dealings with people and I think the “luchadores” (wrestlers) appreciated that. I am also big on following through on things and that was also something that they and other participants responded to. I think that I was fortunate to have met the right people along the way and I could ask for their help in leveraging certain favours. Mascarita would speak to a promoter at an event he was going to wrestle at and they’d give the okay to let us film. It was that classic technique of building relationships and then leaning on them from time to time. Having the right people vouch for me and the project made all the difference in the world.

Did anything happen during the filming that was unexpected?

The biggest surprise had to do with a wrestler that we were working with early on. He couldn’t have been more generous and welcoming and then he decided he no longer wanted to be involved with the project unless he was paid a substantial amount of money – which I didn’t feel was appropriate. We had filmed with him for two full days and then he backed out. That was a big blow to a project with such a small budget as ours. But I wish him well. He’s done some incredible things in his career and with his life but for some reason things didn’t work out with our project.

What has the audience response been so far? Have the subjects seen it, and if so, what did they think?

I wish I could answer this question but given the tight delivery schedule for the film we are literally still finishing a few final touches to it. The film screens for the first time with an audience later this week. So far Solar, Solar Jr. and Mascarita Sagrada haven’t seen the film. El Hijo del Santo saw the segment on his father and was very complimentary. I’ll try to update this reply in a couple of weeks after we’ve had a few screenings.

Making independent films can be tough.  What keeps you motivated?

I’ve worked in the commercial world and in the independent world. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. On the indie side of things, there is that sense of “authorship,” that sense that the work that you’re doing expresses something vital and personal to you. Perhaps that’s an odd thing to say about a lucha libre documentary but I think it’s important to tell the story of Mexicans and Latinos that were entrepreneurial and that bet on themselves to build something – be it a business or an identity. To be able to tell that story in a creative and unfettered way is why you undertake these independent projects.

The other thing that keeps you motivated is your collaborators. Solar used to always tell me, “Carlitos, todos somos luchadores” (Carlos, we’re all in the struggle). It’s true, we were undertaking a sizeable project with limited resources – we were definitely luchando (i.e. in the struggle). My editor and co-producer, Thom Calderón, was also a huge motivator. His great enthusiasm for the project and his love of filmmaking was extremely motivating.

VOCES explores the amazing variety of Latino arts and culture – is there another aspect of the Latino experience that you’d like to make a film about?

I’m still catching my breathe on this one. I’ll get back in touch with you on this.

What advice would you give young Latino filmmakers just starting out?

My advice is practical, I’d encourage young filmmakers to learn a craft in addition to having projects they’d like to direct or produce. Learn how to be a visual effects artist, a dialogue editor, a camera operator or a re-recording mixer. Learn a craft at which you can make a living at while you’re trying to get your projects made.

What’s your next project?

I’m writing something. There’s also a documentary I’m exploring.

American Graduate Day Raises Awareness of Dropout Crisis

September 27th, 2012

L-R: Michael Powell, co-chair of America’s Promise Alliance; Neal Shapiro, President and CEO of WNET; Ray Suarez, PBS NewsHour anchor; and Pat Harrison, President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This past Saturday, Sept. 22, was American Graduate Day, a seven-hour live television broadcast spotlighting solutions to the nation’s dropout crisis. WNET and partner stations across the country broadcast the event, hosted by Maria Bartiromo, JuJu Chang, Rehema Ellis, Susie Gharib, Bianna Golodryga, Bryant Gumbel, Christina Ha, Maria Hinojosa, Rebecca Jarvis, Al Letson, Stone Phillips, Rafael Pi Roman, and Ray Suarez.

Thirty two national and local organizations committed to giving students choices and opportunities through in-school and out-of-school programs participated on Saturday, and about 100 stations covering 63% of the country aired American Graduate Day for a portion of or all the broadcast. The event also received extensive social media engagement and media coverage, including an article in The New York Times.

Watch an interview with special guest Michael Powell, representing America’s Promise Alliance, and PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Ray Suarez:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiUmoHYtgp8&w=560&h=315]

Wonder Women: A Q&A with 'Half the Sky' Executive Producer Maro Chermayeff

September 26th, 2012

Maro Chermayeff, executive producer and director of "Half the Sky, Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide."

“The role and rights of women, their freedom and equality and dignity, is the unfinished business of the 21st century,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says in Half the Sky, Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a four-hour television event and trans-media project premiering this month on THIRTEEN. Inspired by the bestselling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the series – a special presentation of Independent Lens — examines the oppression of women and girls around the world.

Actresses Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, Diane Lane, America Ferrera, and Olivia Wilde join Kristof as he travels to Asia and Africa to meet courageous individuals in six countries who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable – and fighting bravely to change them.

THIRTEEN spoke with with executive producer and director Maro Chermayeff
about the groundbreaking series from Show of Force, her company with partner and fellow executive producer Jeff Dupre.

Q: Why did you decide to do a series about women’s oppression around the world?

A: Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn came to me with fellow executive producers Mikaela Beardsley and Jamie Gordon very early on when the project first landed in the hands of public broadcasting. Pat Harrison, President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), has a genuine, longstanding interest in the development of women and girls on a global level, is deeply committed to the project, and knows my work from past projects. Nick and Sheryl wanted their book to be the beginning of a ripple effect engaging people in the movement to end the oppression of women and girls. They knew the project would have to exist on multiple platforms to reach new audiences, so it isn’t just a four-hour series. It also includes a social impact Facebook game and mobile games, two linked websites, massive amounts of educational content we’re distributing in partnership with the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Women and Girls Lead, and much more. I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

Q: What was it like working with Nicholas Kristof on location in Asia and Africa?

A: It was really quite amazing. He’s phenomenally smart, incredibly focused, and he cares very, very deeply. He cares about reporting, he cares about journalism, he cares about what’s happening in the world, he cares about the people whose stories we’re telling, and he doesn’t hesitate to put himself at the center of dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations for the sake of the story and the people involved in it. In the first episode, Sierra Leone, we follow a story where a pastor has just been arrested for rape and the police had not searched his room. Nick absolutely can’t believe the level of th investigating techniques and the next thing I know he’s saying, “Alright, so you haven’t gone to the Pastor’s house. We’re going to join the investigator from the FSU (Family Services Unit ) who is going to the Pastor’s house and we’re going to search his room.” This kind of thing happened throughout the filming of the series. We would follow Nick anywhere.  Amazingly, I never felt like my life was in danger. You feel safe because his confidence begins to rub off on you.  And what is so remarkable about Nick in these situations — one of the many remarkable things and what sets him apart from other reporters you see on television — is his authenticity. He’s not acting – there is no script — he’s doing what he’s doing and you’re along for the ride and he’s not paying attention to you or the cameras because what he’s doing is more important than the fact that you’re following him – and that is always what makes the best subject. So ultimately, working with Nick was like having the opportunity to get a PhD with a brilliant professor for four years whose sole focus and attention you’re allowed to absorb by either directly trying to help him or riding his coattails.

Q: What inspired Eva Mendes and the other actresses to participate in the series?

A: We approached these actresses because they’re substantive, significant women who are passionate about women’s rights and doing meaningful work around these issues. I cannot say enough wonderful things about these women! There wasn’t one diva in the group and they really rolled up their sleeves and immersed themselves in every aspect of this incredible and incredibly intense journey. They were familiar with Nick’s work and the issues, so they were really excited to be a part of the project. And they were especially proud to be connected with a series that was going to air on public television.

Nicholas Kristof in Somaliland. Photo courtesy of David Smoler.

Q: As a filmmaker, how do you find the balance between “getting the story” and building a level of trust with the people whose stories you’re filming?

A: First I have to say that as documentarians, we’re not always objective. We get involved in the action, we have a point of view, there’s a specific story we’re telling. At the same time, Nick and I both knew it was our job to try to tell the full story and we were always mindful of that. For example, in the Sierra Leone episode, we knew we had to interview the pastor who was accused of rape. We knew we wouldn’t be telling the whole story if we didn’t give him a chance to say he didn’t do it.  Whether you believe him or not is up to you, but we had to give him a chance to speak. Otherwise you’re kind of railroading somebody on a television in front of millions of people. So we were very conscious of those kinds of decisions and giving people their fair chance to speak.

Regarding the issue of trust, I actually think it was harder to earn our subjects’ trust in Circus — Jeff and my last series for PBS, which followed the daily lives of members of The Big Apple Circus — because as performers they were very sensitive about the way they looked and were perceived. In Half the Sky, Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the trust was harder to build but it was won faster because the women knew we were supporting them and trying to protect them. They knew we were there to tell their story and that was very valuable to them. It was empowering for them to talk and actually have people listen, especially westerners with cameras.

Q: What is the series’ connection to the Women and Girls Lead initiative?

A: Women and Girls Lead is a public media outreach and audience engagement campaign launched by ITVS and strongly supported by CPB and Pat Harrison. The goal is to focus, educate, and connect people around the world in support of the issues facing women and girls. It includes a collection of approximately 50 independent films made available via public television broadcasts and free community screenings, and Half the Sky is one of the centerpiece films. Women, War & Peace, the wonderful series Abigail Disney, Ginny Reticker and Pam Hogan produced for THIRTEEN, started the train last year, we’re in the middle of that train, and David Sutherland’s Kind Hearted Woman, about an extraordinary Native American woman in North Dakota, will be at the other end.

Q: How would your career and body of work be different if you didn’t have a relationship with public television?

A: Well, I certainly wouldn’t be able to get the things that I care about to an audience, because what public television believes is important and what they will back and what they think is substantial and what they will try to bring to their audience is really on another level from what you see elsewhere. I’ve worked quite extensively at HBO, who also does wonderful documentaries. But they don’t do series or events in the same way. PBS allows documentary filmmakers like Ken Burns or David Grubin to take four, six, eight hours to tell a story. When you have that kind of broadcast real estate, the story is able to evolve in a way it can’t in a one or two-hour film.

And on a more personal note, I feel like I’ve grown up at PBS. I’ve worked there for many, many years. I’ve produced and directed Frontier House, Carrier, Circus, and the American Masters’ film Juilliard. So for me, PBS is family. PBS is home.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: My longtime production partner Jeff Dupre and I are hoping to do more with Half the Sky, and we have an extensive outreach planned as well as two short films under the Half the Sky banner. On a personal level, of course I hope and plan to work more Nick and Sheryl and we are putting that together now. At Show of Force we are talking about a whole bunch of new shows and one-off documentaries and we are presently in development on a music series for PBS. It’s another huge multiple eight-part series, so Jeff and I will be deeply ensconced at our home away from home for many more years.

Inside America’s Dropout Epidemic: A FRONTLINE/NBC Education Nation Live Chat

September 25th, 2012

Photo courtesy of FRONTLINE.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of teenagers in the United States quit high school without diplomas—an epidemic so widespread that nobody knows the exact number. What is clear is that massive dropout rates cripple individual career prospects and cloud the country’s future.

FRONTLINE producer Frank Koughan and his team spent a semester at Houston’s Sharpstown High School to explore a high-stakes experiment to rescue students from the edge and turn around one of the city’s worst performing schools.

What is at stake for students who dropout? What are the challenges they face? And what can be done to stem the tide of this national emergency? Join Frank Koughan, Houston school administrators Brandi Brevard and Mark White, and John Bridgeland from Civic Enterprises for a live chat to discuss these questions — and answer yours. Guest questioner Rehema Ellis, chief education correspondent from NBC News, will also participate.

This live chat is hosted in partnership with NBC News Education Nation.

Join the discussion below at 2 p.m. ET on Weds, Sept. 26, and submit your questions in the chat window below.
Dropout Nation Live Chat

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #7

September 24th, 2012

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.

There is nothing like a Dame: I know that all Downtonians are of two minds this morning after the Emmy Awards. On one hand, we are thrilled that Dame Maggie Smith won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Emmy for her brilliantly layered portrayal of the Dowager Countess Grantham (including Hugh Bonneville, who tweeted that he was “Thrilled for Dame Mummy”). But we feel a bit cheated that she wasn’t there to give an acceptance speech, don’t we? At the very least they should have allowed someone else from the cast to accept for her. The generic ‘we accept this award on her behalf’ is no fun at all. But more than that, we are also disappointed that Downton Abbey was shut out of all the other awards. Harumpf! Awards show watchers knew it was going to be dicey going in to the acting categories because Downton Abbey actors received multiple nominations in those categories, and award show prognosticators are always saying that when more than one actor from the same show or movie are nominated in the same category, they cancel each other out, lowering the chances of winning. Even Hugh Bonneville was so sure he would not win that he vowed to eat his toe if he did. While Dame Mummy triumphed over such prognostications, the others fell like William on the Somme. And Downton Abbey not winning the Emmy for Best Drama Series was a bigger crime than the wrongful conviction of Mr. Bates! I say we get our pitchforks and torches and storm the Academy. Are you with me Downtonians?

Academy Governors Bob Bergen (L) and Lily Tomlin (R) present Benedict Cumberbatch with the Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie nominee certificate with Hugh Bonneville (2nd L) and Brendan Coyle (2nd R). Photo by Bucci/PictureGroup via AP Images.

Anyway, Hugh Bonneville could have won a separate award for giving the best good sport surprised face when he lost (and by the way, he should win some sort of award for his twitter feed). Ah well. You can’t win ’em all. Downton Abbey will just have to console itself with being the critically-acclaimed and highly rated obsession of the most discerning and intelligent telly viewers everywhere. As another consolation, they got a shout out from Jimmy Fallon, who used a clip from his Downton Sixbey parody to represent the best of his show for his nominee montage. And the run up to the Emmys did settle another vexing issue:  Hugh Bonneville tweeted the picture above, showing he and Brendan Coyle playfully strangling Benedict Cumberbatch, from the Emmy Writer’s Nominee Lunch — once and for all settling all those tabloid rift rumors.

Regrets, I’ve had a few: They say that, in life, you only regret the things you haven’t done – and I believe that is true. My most recent evidence? Right now, I am kicking myself for not stopping by the boutique Jeffrey, in the Meatpacking District, during the recent Fashion’s Night Out. Why? Because Dan Stevens was there (with Jessica Chastain) and the crowds weren’t. How could I be so stupid, you ask? In my defense, I didn’t hear about it until about a half hour before the appearance and I had just gotten home from a horrible day at work and was all shleppy, with my bad hair day up in a bandana and I thought, I can’t go out and face those snotty fashionista FNO mobs looking like this. Turns out I should have gone. The mobs never materialized. The store wasn’t crowded at all, and my spy (my friend Fran) tells me that most of those who were there didn’t even know who he was. Those who did got a real treat. Fran reports that he was ‘nattily attired’ and very charming and sweet, always smiling and laughing. Damn!

He Drives Me Crazy: And speaking of fashion, it seems like just about every Downton Abbey star has been featured in fashion spreads lately. One British fashion magazine even featured three separate covers last month, each one graced by a different Crawley girl. But this one really caught my eye. It’s Allen Leach (Branson the Chauffer to you and me) modeling menswear for the online magazine Mr. Porter. Sybil is a lucky Lady (but then we knew that).

Fashion Trifecta: When Lord Grantham told Lady Mary that she should go to America and find a cowboy in the ‘middle west’, it seems that one very well-known Brooklyn-born cowboy was inspired: Ralph Lauren has signed on as a corporate sponsor of PBS’ Masterpiece Classic! Welcome to the party Ralph! And on behalf of all us cowgirls and boys, thank you for your support of excellent television!

I have seen the future and it’s fabulous!: I am lucky enough to have gotten an advanced peek at the first two episodes of the Upstairs Downstairs Season 2, and I can report that it is Terrific with a capital T! I have to honestly say I thought the first season was just OK, so I approached season two with some trepidation. I sat on the screener for almost a week before sliding it into my DVD player. But as soon as it started, I saw my worries were for naught. It is simply fantastic!

As season two begins, the run up to WWII has begun in earnest and residents of 165 Eaton Place are in the throes of it all. Our hero, Sir Hallam, is surrounded by the appeasers of Neville Chamberlain’s government, but steadfastly refuses to go along, despite the entreaties of his co-workers, friends, and even his wife, Lady Agnes, who argue that to appease Hitler is to have an easier life. Since the 1930’s is so much more the recent past than the 19-teens of Downton Abbey, and it takes place in a familiar-looking town house rather than a posh estate, it doesn’t have that fairy tale magicality of Downton Abbey – but it makes up for it in other ways. And interestingly enough, with this series, it is the men’s fashions that are the most eye-catching, with all the men dressed like Hubbell Gardner (I’m sure Ralph will be smiling at that).

In this sophomore season, it seems that Upstairs Downstairs has taken some cues from Downton Abbey in the way they tell the stories – including how they utilize secrets as a plot device. As the season begins, two major characters are missing (it is explained that one has passed away and one is ill).  And a surprising secret affair is revealed; it’s one of those secrets – a big one, that we just know is a time bomb set to go off later at some inopportune moment, and waiting for that to happen will be jolly good fun. On top of that, the production design has kicked up a notch. The cinematography is more beautiful than I remember from season one, and often ethereal. Bold faced names of the day move through the lives of the residents of 165 Eaton, from the Duke of Kent to Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and his young son Jack, and butler Prichard brings a Carson-like nobility to it all, with lines like, ‘When one follows one’s conscience, pain is usually felt by other people.’ Upstairs Downstairs season two premiers on Masterpiece Classic Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m.  You can get caught up on season one, which re-airs on THIRTEEN Sunday, Sept. 30 at 9 p.m. & 10 p.m. Find out more.

Call the Midwife: I reviewed this series in a previous Dispatch, and this is just a reminder that it premiers this Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN. Call the Midwife is based on the true memoirs of a nurse who worked in London’s impoverished post-war East End of the 1950s. It is gritty and unique, brilliant and surprising – and you do NOT want to miss it (especially those of you who love everything EastEnders!). Call the Midwife is not part of the Masterpiece franchise, so it will be running concurrently with Upstairs Downstairs on Sunday nights: Call the Midwife at 8 p.m., and Upstairs Downstairs at 9 p.m.. That is almost two months of intensely British Sunday nights across the Colonies. Please do write in with reports about the quizzical looks on the faces of your coworkers as you show up Monday mornings with a British accent.

Third Time’s a Charm: The third season of Downton Abbey premiered two weeks ago in Britain, and I made the mistake of clicking on a link to a British paper and saw a couple of big spoilers from the first episode. I won’t ruin it for you by sharing what those spoilers are, but I will say that right out of the gate season three starts off with a bang (actually two). When I read this, at first I thought, ‘how crazy is that?’, and then I remembered that the first two seasons also each started with a bang (except in the case of Pamuk who, technically, ended with a bang), with all the characters spending the rest of the season dealing with the fallout. So if you don’t want to stumble across any of these spoilers, I recommend you stay away from reading the British tabloids online. Of course, there are many, many reasons to avoid the British tabs. This is only one of them.

No justice, No peace: In the eternal fight for truth and justice there is one lesson that can be drawn – one cannot fight for justice without the proper signage. So to make the fight for the freedom of our erstwhile hero Mr. Bates more efficient (and to give you a giggle), please download and display this sign. ‘Keep Calm and Free Bates.’ That is our mantra. Carry on.

In case you missed it, read the last edition of Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora.

Only A Number: A Q&A with Filmmaker Steven Besserman

September 17th, 2012

Steven Besserman (r) and Director of Photography Gerardo Puglia (l) filming in Atkar, Hungary. Photo courtesy of AriJoe Productions, LLC.

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with filmmaker Steven Besserman, whose documentary Only A Number tells the story of his mother’s experience as a Holocaust survivor through her own words. Initially a diary, Besserman was compelled to make the story into a film when his mother developed dementia and began to lose her memory.

Here, Besserman discusses visiting the sites where his parents grew up, first met and ultimately escaped, and the lasting impact the Holocaust continues to have on survivors’ families, generations later.

Only A Number premieres Sunday, September 23 at 7 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Mr. Besserman answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: How old were you when you first made the connection between your family and the Holocaust?

Steven Besserman: I learned about the Holocaust at a very early age, probably beginning at age 5 or 6. My mother would tell my sister and I about her experiences growing up in Hungary, things that occurred following the Nazi invasion, and what happened to her and her family during the Holocaust. It was the explanation for many things about my family; why my parents had numbers tattooed on their arms, why I didn’t have grandparents like many of my friends did, why my mother had such horrible nightmares, often screaming herself awake and calling for her mother, and so on.

IT: Was there anything you were surprised by on your visit to Hungary, Poland, and Germany for the film? Were these places from your parents’ past what you expected?

SB: I had a lot of trepidations about going to these countries, particularly Germany, and making a film on this subject matter. I made contacts in each country, kept the crew very small and wanted to keep a very low profile about what I was doing. I think what surprised me the most was the degree of compassion, support and cooperation that I received from the people I was working with in each country, especially Germany.

In terms of the physical places from my parents’ past, I had hoped to find visuals that unearthed remnants of that past in the present, and I found more than I could have hoped for in almost every location.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy2Pta2IxD4&w=560&h=315]

IT: What was the most challenging part of making Only A Number?

SB: I didn’t think I would be able to start production on this film. About two weeks before I was leaving for Poland, there was a plane crash in Russia that killed the Polish President, his wife and high-ranking military advisers, and the country went into a period of national mourning. Then, the volcano eruption in Iceland spewed ash into the skies, grounding all flights to and from Europe. And, one week before I was to leave home, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. I just looked up to the heavens and said, “Okay, I get it. I’m not supposed to go and do this.”

But, I would say the most challenging aspect was the emotional one. I had never been to Europe or any of these locations before. When I was literally walking in my parents’ footsteps with my mother’s words rolling around in my head, the rush of emotions was so intense, there were many times when I found it difficult to focus on making the film.

There were issues back home that added to the emotional challenges. My mother was at home beginning hospice care for colon cancer and, on the day that I was shooting in the area of the concentration camp where my parents met, my father had a heart attack and needed an emergency stent. My wife and sister rushed down to Florida to be with my parents, but it wasn’t until I spoke with my father on the phone following his surgery that I was able to continue and complete the filming in Germany.

Steven Besserman and Gerardo Puglia filming in Waldlager (a forest camp used during the Holocaust) in Germany. Photo courtesy of AriJoe Productions, LLC.

IT: Have you witnessed a difference in individual survivors’ willingness to speak about their experiences (even among your parents)? Why do you think your mother was so open to discussing her difficult past?

SB: I have known of many Holocaust survivors who did not want to talk about their experiences. My father was one of them. He had endured almost five years of hard labor, starvation and torture, lost his family and witnessed a lot of death and murder. He could not bring himself to talk about it. In fact, it wasn’t until I began pre-production research for the film that my dad began to open up and share some details of his story.

My mom was much more open about her experiences. I think part of the reason was her own need to tell the truth about what happened to her, even to us as young children. The diary that she wrote 35 years ago was the result of a writing exercise she created for herself to improve her English vocabulary. I encouraged her to capture her memories of growing up in Hungary, what happened to her during the Holocaust, and how she met my father and came to America. I think it was a cathartic experience for her, and she was doing what her son asked her to do, knowing it was important to me. She filled four notebooks in about six weeks, and those became the manuscript and the inspiration for the documentary.

IT: What was your family’s reaction to your decision to make a film based on your parents’ story?

SB: My family was extremely supportive of my decision to make Only A Number into a documentary. I had typed the manuscript of my mother’s diary many years before and shared that with my extended family since, for many of them, it is their story, too. They knew that I had the professional experience and ambition, but I don’t think they realized the effort involved in making an independent documentary. When it was completed and they saw the film, they were overwhelmed with emotion and pride. And, I made sure that all of my cousins and their children have their own copy of Only A Number to pass on to future members of our family.

IT: You produced Only A Number to preserve your mother’s memories for future generations. With so few survivors alive today, is there a side of the Holocaust or voice associated with it that you think has yet to be heard/seen?

SB: There have been a number of studies and writings on the impact of the Holocaust on second generation survivors and the psychological effects that has had on them. I always felt the need and obligation to help tell my parents’ story, and my journey in making this documentary brought me much closer to that and allowed me to share some of my own thoughts and feelings. I see more and more coming from other second generation survivors, and now even third generation survivors who are curious about their families’ pasts and how that helped shape who they are. I think those are the voices we will continue to hear and see and make contributions to fighting hatred wherever and whenever it occurs.

THIRTEEN Week Kicks Off in NYC, Sept. 16-23

September 14th, 2012

In celebration of our 50th Anniversary, the week of Sept. 16-23 was declared THIRTEEN Week in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg. Join us in celebrating with these events across the city (and right in your living room):

  • On Monday morning, THIRTEEN rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
  • PIONEERS OF THIRTEEN: The 60’s – Experimental Days premiered Monday night at 8 p.m. Watch the full episode here:
  • We ran a “Thank You” message to New York on a Jumbotron at 43rd street between 7th and Broadway. This message ran Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday and appeared approximately every four minutes throughout those days.
  • The Knights, the popular young orchestra we profiled last year, performed around the city on Thursday from the top of a THIRTEEN double decker bus. They stopped and performed mini-concerts at various locations throughout the city (including Times Square, Lincoln Center, and Columbia University).
  • On Saturday, Sept. 22, from 1-8 p.m., THIRTEEN presented “American Graduate Day,” a day-long event dedicated to bringing awareness and action to the dropout crisis in the tri-state area. The broadcast featured journalists Maria Bartiromo, Bryant Gumbel, Stone Philips, celebrities like Yankees first baseman Mark Texiera and actress Bridget Moynahan, and over 20 different organizations.

Great Lakes Week Returns to Public Television, September 10-13

September 10th, 2012

Detroit Public Television and WVIZ/PBS ideastream® are returning to cover this year’s Great Lakes Week conferences, offering widespread public access to important discussions around the future of the Great Lakes, the United States’ largest source of fresh water. In addition to the regular daily programming listed below, there will also be nightly summaries of the day’s events at 6:30 pm ET from September 11-13.

Watch live coverage here:

Free live streaming by Ustream

Live Programming  Schedule:

Monday 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm ET
Great Lakes Commission-International Joint Commission Joint Meeting

  • Topics: Lake Erie Algae Bloom, Ontario’s Lake Erie Protection Program

Monday 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm ET (Online only, no broadcast)
International Joint Commission-U.S. EPA Public Hearing on Lake Erie priorities

Tuesday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm ET
Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Conference

  • Welcome from the Mayor of Cleveland
  • Plenary session on the federal budget debate and its impact on Great Lakes

Restoration Funding

  • Luncheon Speakers
  • Farm Bill
  • Great Lakes Restoration Success Stories (Tape delay from earlier in the day)

Wednesday 8:00 am – 1:00 pm ET
Joint Session (all organizations)

  • U.S.-Canadian Report-Out
  • Asian Carp: What To Expect When You Are Expecting
  • A Special Announcement from the U.S. EPA

Wednesday 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm ET
Healing Our Waters and/or Areas of Concern Conference

  • The Clean Water Act at 40
  • AOC Accomplishments
  • Making Progress

Thursday 8:00 am – 4:00 pm ET
Healing Our Waters and/or Areas of Concern Conference

  • CSO Control (recorded Wednesday afternoon at HOW)
  • Citizen Action to Stop Asian Carp (recorded Wednesday afternoon at HOW)
  • Oil Pipelines and the Great Lakes
  • Presidential Candidate Forum
  • Ohio and the Future of the Great Lakes Compact (tape delay)
  • Jerry Dennis Keynote Address at the AOC Conference

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #6

August 30th, 2012

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.

Downton Interruptus: As the summer winds down, we are just weeks away from the premiere of Downton Abbey‘s Season 3 in the UK. I know there are many here who are frustrated by the wait for the new season to arrive Stateside, but I think of it this way: While true, sooner would be better, even though we have the longer wait to get our Downton Abbey fix, we really are the lucky ones because, unlike the viewers in the UK, we get to watch it commercial-free. Just think of how different an experience this show would be with annoying commercials breaking the mood every ten or fifteen minutes. I much prefer watching it the way we do, on PBS, where we get to fully steep in the fantasy of it all uninterrupted.

Encore! You’ll be happy to know that even before Season 3 premieres, Julian Fellowes has confirmed that there will be a Season 4! That Downton Abbey is such a runaway hit is good news. The bad news (depending how you look at it) is that Downton Abbey is such a runaway hit, that the cast is getting boatloads of big Hollywood offers, and it has been reported that there are fears that it may affect their availability. That availability may affect their characters’ storylines (or even fates) for Season 4 (and beyond). Those Crawley girls especially are in high demand. But let’s not borrow trouble. From what I’ve seen, there’s none extra needed.

I’ve seen a few preview trailers for Season 3 which hint at the BIG stories to come this season and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say this: These heirs and heiresses have got tsurises. (FYI: Tsuris? That’s French for trouble.) Big tsurises. That’s all I’ll say.

And talk about a big tsuris for Violet. Here is a first look at Shirley MacLaine as the Long Island interloper, meeting up with Dowager Countess Grantham, who seems to relish her arrival as much as she would a flare up of farmers (and don’t worry, no spoilers here).

Elementary (school) my dear Watson: Speaking of old ladies, what is with Benedict Cumberbatch anyway? Masterpiece’s Sherlock seems to have some sort of Jets/Sharks thing going with Downton Abbey, doesn’t he? He has repeatedly dissed the show in the media, and most recently, while promoting his own new, period drama in the UK, he was quoted yet again, in Reader’s Digest, as saying “Downton was ‘f***ing atrocious.'” Harumpf! The cad! (Someone please grab the smelling salts for the Dowager!) For their parts, the Downton cast seem to be getting a giggle out of it—you can do that when you’re riding the wave of a huge hit! In response, Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens and Brendan Coyle all (temporarily) changed their Twitter avatars to the front cover of the Reader’s Digest, which pictures Cumberbatch and the headline ‘Move Over Downton.’ Then they changed the avatars to pink bunnies, leaving us to wonder what that means…

Everyone in the Pool: With Shirley MacLaine making a brief appearance this season as Martha Levinson, it kind of makes one wonder who else might turn up at our favorite country house. I mean, we know that every actor, both here and in the UK, would LOVE any kind of part. But it would take a special person to fit the bill. So as much as I dislike it when Americans appear in my British fantasies, here are a few ideas: With William gone, the Crawleys will need a new footman, and I think Tim Gunn would fit the bill perfectly. He already looks like an Edwardian who has time-traveled to our time and is unfamiliar with our modern ways (i.e. he is fully pressed and speaks in complete sentences.) Anna’s mother, Tammy Wynette, could stop by for a visit – and the first words out of her mouth would be, “Girl, seriously? It was just a song.” In Season 4, Shirley’s Martha could come back schlepping her friend, Wallis Simpson along for the ride. And why not? Since every current event of the time affects the residents of our friends at Downton directly, why shouldn’t Prince Edward meet the woman he gave up the throne for at a house party thrown by Lord and Lady Grantham? And of course, what EastEnders fan wouldn’t love to see the Cockney Sparrow, Barbara Windsor, working downstairs and get the chance to yell, “Get out of my kitchen!”?

What’s in a name? It was recently reported that Siobhan (O’Brien) Finneran’s nickname on the set is Darth Vader, for the way she stealthily appears out of nowhere.

Tiny Bubbles: There was a general consensus, among critics who decide these sorts of things and get to make pronouncements in the media, that Downton Abbey had a sophomore slump last year. My own theory is that these snooty critics suddenly woke up and realized that they had been taken in by the dreaded s-word: A soap! Yes, they had fallen in love with a soap and they wanted to make sure everyone knew they had been duped, lest they lose their cynic cred (sort-of like when you trip and say, “I meant to do that” to no one in particular). But it is interesting to note that so far, in the UK, those same critics are now raving about how great Season 3 is (causing Benedict Cumberbatch to seek emergency treatment for a bad case of noogies). It will be interesting, that’s for sure!

So as the countdown to Season 3 continues, I know you Downtonians are patiently waiting – but what else can you do? Book a flight to the UK to watch it live? (Actually, that’s not as crazy as it sounds: some fans do go to great lengths to avoid the wait for their favorite shows. I know a big EastEnders fan who booked a trip to London just so she could watch EastEnders 25th Anniversary episode live.) But no need to get that crazy; Downton Abbey will be here before you know it. And as the Downton Abbey premiere gets closer here in the Colonies, THIRTEEN does have some fun things planned for you. What are they? You’ll just have to wait and see!

In case you missed it, read the last edition of Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora.

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